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Lawsuit Alleges Sotheby’s Involvement in “Misleading Promotion” of Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs



A recent class action lawsuit filed in California has thrust renowned auction house Sotheby’s into the spotlight, as a group of investors accuse the institution of participating in a “misleading promotion” campaign aimed at boosting the profile of Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC) non-fungible tokens (NFTs). The lawsuit, filed last week, alleges that Sotheby’s collaboration with the creators of BAYC NFTs, Yuga Labs, was part of a larger scheme to defraud investors. This legal battle highlights the evolving landscape of the NFT market and the challenges associated with establishing value and transparency in this nascent industry.

The Allegations and Background

The class action lawsuit centers on allegations that Sotheby’s, in tandem with Yuga Labs, engaged in deceptive practices to artificially inflate the value of Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs. These NFTs, featuring whimsical illustrated apes generated by an algorithm, experienced a surge in value during late 2021. Notably, in September of that year, Sotheby’s conducted an online auction where 101 BAYC NFTs were sold for $24 million, surpassing a pre-sale estimate of $12 million to $18 million.

A Bored Ape Yacht Club mural in New York Photo by Todd Van Hoosear, via Flickr
A Bored Ape Yacht Club mural in New York Photo by Todd Van Hoosear, via Flickr

The lawsuit contends that Sotheby’s endorsement of BAYC NFTs contributed to their legitimacy among traditional collectors and attracted a younger audience. The complaint highlights a statement allegedly made by Max Moore, Sotheby’s head of contemporary art auctions, claiming that the NFTs had been acquired by a traditional collector. However, the plaintiffs argue that the NFTs were purchased by FTX, a cryptocurrency exchange that has faced subsequent challenges.

The plaintiffs’ legal team argues that Sotheby’s representation of the undisclosed buyer as a “traditional” collector created a misleading impression that BAYC NFTs had gained traction in mainstream circles. The lawsuit asserts that Sotheby’s “misleading promotion” effectively induced additional purchases of these NFTs, contributing to the alleged scheme to defraud investors.

Sotheby’s Response and Counterarguments

In response to the allegations, Sotheby’s vehemently denied the claims, deeming them “baseless.” The auction house asserted its readiness to vigorously defend itself against the lawsuit. The legal battle raises questions about the responsibilities of auction houses and other intermediaries in the NFT market to ensure transparency and accurate representation of assets being sold.

Bored Ape NFT Frenzy Prompts OpenSea NFT Trade Volume Surge
Bored Ape NFT Frenzy Prompts OpenSea NFT Trade Volume Surge. Courtesy: Yahoo Finance

Celebrities and Notable Figures Named in Lawsuit

The lawsuit also implicates several celebrities and notable figures who endorsed or engaged with BAYC NFTs. Personalities such as Paris Hilton, Justin Bieber, Jimmy Fallon, Madonna, and Mike “Beeple” Winkelmann, the digital artist behind a record-breaking NFT sale, have been named as defendants. This aspect of the lawsuit underscores the increasingly intertwined relationship between celebrity endorsements and the world of NFTs.

NFT Market Evolution and Challenges

The Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs’ journey from soaring values to subsequent declines mirrors a larger trend observed in the NFT market since 2021, often referred to as a “crypto winter.” The market’s volatility raises questions about the long-term viability of NFT investments and the mechanisms that drive their valuations. As NFTs gain prominence, the need for regulatory oversight and industry standards becomes more apparent.


The class action lawsuit against Sotheby’s highlights the complex intersection of traditional institutions, emerging technologies, and evolving market practices. The allegations of “misleading promotion” underscore the challenges of establishing clear value and transparent communication in the dynamic and rapidly evolving world of non-fungible tokens. As the legal battle unfolds, it will undoubtedly contribute to shaping the future landscape of NFT trading, investment, and regulation.

Feature Image courtesy: beincrypto

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